ATLANTIC CITY — This city has seen its share of grand plans unveiled by outsiders.
But state overseers insisted Tuesday that the latest, a 47-part “Implementation Plan” developed after seven months of meetings with the community, including a town hall attended by nearly 500 people, was different.
“We recognize that past promises made to citizens in Atlantic City very often never materialized,” said Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, who as head of the state Department of Community Affairs has control of the financially strapped city under the state’s takeover law.
“We’ve heard the frustration," she said. "Now we are hearing that people have hope.”
The plan, unveiled at the All Wars Memorial Building, focuses heavily on social services, employment, public health, housing, and programs for the city’s 10,000 young people, areas that Oliver and Jim Johnson, appointed by Gov. Phil Murphy as an unpaid special counsel for Atlantic City, have said they wanted to emphasize.
It aims both large — attacking the city’s foreclosure epidemic — and small, returning the popular concerts to grassy Gardner’s Basin in the Inlet section. The neighborhood concerts ended in the era of heavily promoted beach concerts.
The takeover under Gov. Chris Christie, during which state overseer Jeffrey Chiesa’s law firm billed $7 million, was much more contentious. It focused more on triage for the city’s precarious finances and fierce courtroom negotiations with the public safety unions, which are ongoing. City residents fought off what they believed was an attempt to privatize its municipal water authority and otherwise take control of city assets.
The implementation plan, posted on the DCA website, comes with no specified budget or funding source, though the state has allotted $1.35 million to staff an Atlantic City Project Office. Most had timetables of the second half of the year or next year.
Oliver said she expected to draw on private funding as well as existing funds through state offices. The city’s municipal budget is projecting its third straight year of no tax increase, and it includes pay raises for the city’s non-public safety-workers.
Mayor Frank Gilliam and community leaders, including Chelsea Neighborhood Association president Carol Ruffu, who introduced Oliver, said they believed the state had been successful in working from a “bottom-up” paradigm instead of a top-down takeover.
Oliver said the takeover, which is authorized through November 2021, is “absolutely producing results.”
Regarding some of the city’s more visible problems, such as a blighted Atlantic Avenue downtown business district overrun by addicts and drug dealing, Johnson cited plans for community police officers in neighborhoods and a recent “Social Services Town Hall” held among stakeholders. Gilliam said small business incentives would also help, and there would be renewed attention to addressing repeat nuisance and drug violators in a special diversionary court.
Johnson said the state is working to develop increased internship opportunities for the city’s young people and asked for more volunteers from the business community.
A new city master plan, the latest of many, is being finalized, Oliver said. It will emphasize diversifying the economy and strengthening existing businesses.
The state’s efforts have brought together public and private leaders in a series of executive council meetings and Oliver said the plan will leverage funding streams from nonprofits, philanthropies, and “impact investors.”
Henrietta Shelton, head of the Chicken Bone Beach Jazz Foundation, told the several hundred people gathered for the announcement that after 20 years of trying, she finally had achieved stability for her organization, which runs a jazz camp in the summer.
Wells Fargo has donated a building and the state has helped her with funding, she said. “We’re a success story,” she said. “We’ve been fighting for 20 years. It’s going to change. We’re a product of that change.”
Oliver also pointed to increased training in ethics and management given to Atlantic City municipal employees and said that would continue. She said that a citywide calendar would be created to promote programming, and that plans were in the works for increased summer and after-school opportunities for the city’s 10,000 children.
Atlanticare is planning a new medical arts building that will focus on dialysis and opioid treatment, as well as medical education, and plans for a new supermarket near the Convention Center are in the works. The state’s plan focuses on morbidity, addiction, and food security. A police advisory board has been established, and the neighborhood policing program should begin in June, she said.